Every Italian will tell you the correct way to cook pasta. In Italy, every city, village, and household has its own version of some pasta recipe, each one unique, delicious, and claimed by its adherents to be best. If there is one thing that everyone in the country can agree upon, it is how pasta must be cooked: in heavily salted, boiling water. It is something that is not up for debate — none of this tablespoon of olive oil in the water nonsense and absolutely no “one-pot pasta” dishes where sauce and raw pasta are all cooked in the same pot.
Enter Mr. Alton Brown, the Food Network star whose show Good Eats brought science, history, and culinary technique into homes across America. In 1999, in “Pantry Raid I: Use Your Noodle” (season 1, episode 11), Brown vehemently stated that he never cooked pasta in anything less than a gallon of salted boiling water — but fast-forward to 2015, and it seems that Brown is singing a very different tune, espousing a method he calls the “cold water pasta method.” This new favorite technique is quite a controversial one, as Brown acknowledges on his website: “I may be blocked from ever entering Italy again for saying this: I have come to prefer the texture of dry pasta started in cold water.”
The recipe is simple, and specific to shorter pastas (longer noodles like spaghetti requiring more water). It requires 64 ounces of cold water, one tablespoon of salt and one box of short, dry pasta (like rigatoni or penne). All the ingredients are combined and brought to a boil. When boiling, the heat is the decreased to a simmer; the contents are stirred and cooked until al dente, which takes about four minutes and 30 seconds according to Brown’s characteristically precise instructions.
One the pasta is cooked, Alton redeems himself slightly by emphasizing the value and importance of the magical starchy pasta water, instructing cooks not to simply pour it sown the sink, but to use the starchy goodness to thicken sauces.
Judging by the huge number of positive comments on the recipes page, this newer technique is a popular one, with many fans pointing out its efficiency. People apparently love not waiting for water to boil and consider this method to be time- and energy-efficient.
I for one will not be giving up the tried and true way of cooking pasta using boiling water. I grew up in Italy, have worked the pasta station in busy New York City restaurants, and have spent years making my own fresh and extruded pasta, cooking and eating more than my fair share of starchy shapes — so you might say I’m set in my ways. I have tasted perfectly cooked pasta and poorly cooked pasta and everything in between, and it is my experience and opinion that boiling water makes a huge difference, especially if you want that al dente bite.
But by all means, don’t take my word for it; try some of our best pasta recipes and see which method you prefer.